Hi everyone, my name is Emma Caplan. Before I begin, I would like to thank Mr. Nelson for giving me this opportunity and thank you guys in advance for bearing with me as I nervously give this speech.
I came to GA in the fifth grade and I failed the very first assignment that I was given, and I mean miserably failed. It was a test on the 50 states, but I could only identify 13. Brutal. It would’ve been a different story if I took it back in 1776, but that just wasn’t the case.
The night before the test I was sitting at my kitchen table and told my family how nervous I was. They tried to comfort me, saying: “You’ll be alright. You studied really hard and that’s all you can do.” I broke down in tears and confessed that I in fact did not study at all not because I didn't want to but because I didn't know how to.
I had never been asked to prepare for a test before. My family berated me, and it was in that moment that I had never felt like such a failure; I had never felt such disappointment from my family before, --but how was I supposed to know what I didn’t know.
So, I failed the test… I got to retake it and I passed, but it was mortifying. Things weren’t much smoother in middle school. I continued to struggle with my studying habits, and it became harder to fight the part of my brain that screamed FAILURE. I practically believed I was a failure. Now that didn’t mean that I wouldn’t try, I did, I couldn’t help that part of myself that wanted to please, but I would play off my failures by pretending I didn’t care or by making self-deprecating jokes. But as I look back on those times, I realize that those were just defense mechanisms I used to avoid how I was really feeling. Defeated.
When I entered my freshman year, I was still struggling. My sister was a senior, and I envied her accomplishments: she was the top of her class, a patriot scholar, a prefect. All I wanted in the world was to be just like her. But it felt hopeless. Despite the unwavering support from my friends, parents, and teachers there didn’t really seem to be a point for me to try harder. I received my grades for my freshman year a few weeks into the summer and I did horribly. In fact, I was incredibly frustrated because I had been told over and over that “I had so much potential” and “I was smarter than what those grades represented.” And I thought, “well, if I’m so smart, then why is my GPA so terrible!” This was the second time I felt like a complete failure.
I'm really lucky to have such supportive parents. They would say to me “you can only go up from here.” but I didn't see it that way. I saw it as, “I'm here and I'm going to stay here”. When sophomore year arrived, and my sister was no longer at GA, I wanted to fill her shoes. I began the year with a really good head on my shoulders, feeling positive for the fresh start, but then my home life got pretty difficult. My brother was diagnosed with cancer and everything fell apart. I would come home to only one of my parents while the other was in DC with my brother who was getting treatment, my mom and dad became much quieter and tended to seclude themselves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the support system I was hoping for with my “new year, new student” attitude. I remember when I got my first interim grades back that year, I sat in one of the study rooms and cried, I didn’t feel like they reflected me. But I didn’t know how to get better, and it felt like those B's and C's defined me.
The winter of my sophomore year was my abyss; I felt pretty hopeless. I wish I had an exact moment when I realized things were going to turn around, but that’s not real life. Real life is growth and growth is slow and initially unrewarding. I realized that I needed to take responsibility for my own success and push myself to try harder without relying so heavily on others’ support. So, I did, and I moved those C’s to B’s and those B’s to B+’s, it was a lot of work, but I ended my sophomore year with a GPA that was a little better. Yet, it still didn’t feel like enough. I still yearned for something that I could be really successful at, so the summer of my sophomore year I started doing more graphic design and writing sketches, some of which I turned into videos (which you may know from my YouTube channel). I started to feel that fulfillment. I had found something that I not only loved but seemed to be good at too. I took my newfound mentality into my junior year and told myself that, if I wanted to see A’s on my transcript, then I had to work for it myself. I had to find something within me that made it worth it. I knew that the people who surrounded me saw my potential, but my junior year was about proving that potential to myself.
As I entered my senior year there was a lot of weight on my shoulders: the task of getting into a school that I loved, that offered the major that I want, and that ultimately would accept me. I went full throttle. Trying to balance putting 100% into my classes, extracurriculars and my social life wasn’t easy. It drained me. One really important thing that I’ve learned through all of this is that, determination, persistence, realism, and wanting success more than your next breath-- are the keys to success. I think this is a very powerful way to live your life. Because at the end of the day I couldn’t wait around and hope things would work out, I needed to put myself out there, and try something new if something wasn’t working, because once you find the goodness and potential in yourself, that’s when the support from the people around you turns into respect. Thank you.